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Canine Breed Club Heart Testing

Canine Breed Club Heart Testing

Health & Safety

Pretty much every breed of pedigree dog that you may spot out and about in the UK are apt to have a heightened chance of being born with some form of hereditary health problem compared to the non-pedigree dog population, due to the comparatively small gene pool of suitable breeding stock from each pedigree breed.

Such conditions can range from the minor to the potentially lethal, but the one theme that all hereditary health problems have in common is the fact that in order to curb their spread and reduce the incidences of unhealthy litters being born, knowledge is power. Knowing the status of any given dog when it comes to breed-specific hereditary health is important for breeders.

This means that for every pedigree breed in the UK, there is a health scheme for the breed that is tasked with monitoring the breed’s health, and arranging testing and screening schemes for dogs of the breed for the most common problems.

Some hereditary health conditions are very specific and are only found in one or two different breeds, whilst others tend to be much more common and can be found across a wide and diverse range of breeds, and this is the case with one of the most potentially serious congenital health issues in dogs-heart problems. The term “heart problems” is of course a catch-all title that encompasses a huge manner of individual health conditions caused by either conformation problems or birth defects. Because heart problems can affect a whole range of different dog breeds in different ways, it is possible to have your vet examine your dog to identify any specific heart problems, and such schemes are often run by breed clubs for their respective breeds.

In this article, we will look at breed club health screening in more detail, covering some of the breed club schemes that are in place, and how to decide whether or not to get your own dog tested. Read on to learn more.

What is the aim of heart health testing?

Breed club schemes to encourage heart testing for dogs are designed to fulfil several different criteria:

  • To identify the presence or absence of heart problems across the breed in question, and map the progression of such conditions within the breed.
  • To identify dogs from the breed with good heart health and in some cases, collate data on healthy dogs.
  • To research and identify the causes of different types of heart problems presenting within dogs of the breed.
  • To build a database of hereditary and congenital heart defects within the breed, and promote study and research of such problems by researchers, geneticists and specialist veterinary surgeons.
  • To permit owners of dogs of the breed to develop a basic understanding of breed-related risks and how to reduce them.

Essentially, breed club heart schemes work to educate and inform dog owners to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to hereditary heart problems, particularly when it comes to making the right decision on whether or not to breed from specific dogs.

What sort of dogs have breed club heart schemes in place?

A relatively large number of different dog breeds have incidences of hereditary heart problems within their wider gene pool, and for some breeds that are known to be prone to specific heart health issues, The Kennel Club mandates specific tests as part of the process for registering new puppies of the breed.

However, a much greater number of dog breeds have breed club heart testing schemes in place as outlined above, which are voluntary but strongly recommended.

Just a few of the dog breeds that heart health testing is advised for prior to breeding include:

  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • Boxer
  • Newfoundland
  • Great Dane

Regardless of the breed or type of dog you own, it is important to find out about the hereditary health problems that can affect dogs of the breed, and take the breed club’s advice on heart testing.

How is a dog heart test performed?

There are various different ways to examine and test the heart of a dog, and your vet may use two or more of them in combination if necessary. A heart exam will begin with an auscultation, which means to listen to the heart with a stethoscope, and this initial examination is what is likely to tell your vet if your dog may need a different type of examination as well, in order to get to the root of any problems.

ECG or electrocardiogram examination is necessary if your vet detects an abnormal heartbeat or rhythm, and an echocardiogram with Doppler is also likely to be indicated if the valves of the heart are potential cause for concern, as this allows for direct comparison of the dog in question versus the norm for the breed as a whole.

If you wish to get your dog’s heart health tested, speak to your vet for the initial examination, and they will be able to direct you from there.